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Summary:

Admittedly, I’m eagerly anticipating Google’s Chrome OS later this year. In fact, I couldn’t wait that long, so I installed an early build on my netbook to poke and prod. Not all of you live in the ether between cloud and browser like I do, and […]

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Admittedly, I’m eagerly anticipating Google’s Chrome OS later this year. In fact, I couldn’t wait that long, so I installed an early build on my netbook to poke and prod. Not all of you live in the ether between cloud and browser like I do, and that’s fine. We each have different computing needs and tasks to do — it’s only fitting that we have differing opinions on a browser-based operating system. But I believe that some are drawing conclusions too early in the game. Google’s operating system for the future just might not be as limiting as you think.

I felt that way prior, but after reading a very lengthy, candid interview over at Ars Tehnica, I have even more faith that Chrome OS could easily meet my needs — and maybe yours too. The engineering director for the Chrome OS project, Matthew Papakipos, and Eitan Bencuya from Google PR sat with Ars to chat about Chrome OS, HTML 5 and where this is all heading. I recommend reading the entire interview if you’re even remotely interested in Google’s operating system efforts, but this tidbit solidified the hope I have for the platform:

“Another big aspect to what we’re doing is we’re integrating a whole media player into Chrome and into Chrome OS. People often get confused about this, and it’s a fairly subtle but important point. Because in a sense what we’re doing is integrating the equivalent of Windows Media Player into Chrome itself… …[f]or example, you might just have a USB key that has a bunch of MP3s on it, so you want to be able to plug that in and listen to those MP3s. There might not be any controlling webpage for that activity, but it’s clearly something you need to be able to do in any reasonable operating system or browser. So we’re doing a lot of work to make Chrome and Chrome OS handle those use cases really well.”

Many folks figured that media playback wouldn’t be possible on Chrome OS because it’s considered to be just a browser. But it’s not — there are actually two platforms at play here: Chrome and Chrome OS. We know that Chrome is the browser, because it exists today. However, that browser sits atop a Linux kernel and those two combined are the Chrome OS. That means Google can add what we consider to be standard operating system functions outside of the browser. Perhaps the client to control those functions is the browser, but you have to think beyond what a browser can do today.

That example aside, the entire article is fascinating. Not only does it explain where Google is heading with the Chrome OS, but also how it’s getting there. Around 200 Google employees are using devices powered by Chrome OS and their usage is tracked at detailed levels. As new features or builds arrive, the engineers see if Chrome OS usage has increased or decreased. It’s like a mini-focus group that indirectly provides requirements which in turn get coded for the test cycle to begin again — iterative development on steroids, if you will.

And while I might look to use a Chrome OS device for most of my workday, that doesn’t mean it can’t be an “every now and then” device for others. In fact, Google isn’t trying to define the target user, which is a very different approach from historical computer design methods. Papakipos explains his personal use-case:

“I have three different machines at home, and I started leaving them in different rooms: one in the kitchen, one in the living room, and one in the family room. And it’s amazing how often you just pick it up, look up one piece of information, and shut it off. And you’re done with that whole transaction in 45 seconds. Which is awesome, because sometimes that’s all you want.”

A fast boot, good browser and usable keyboard might go a long way, no? I’m not going to claim that Google’s Chrome OS will save the planet or be the best operating system on the market — that would be silly. But it is shaping up to be basic, simple and effective for many of the activities we all do daily. There are still plenty of challenges, and therefore potential limitations — JavaScript and HTML 5 access to peripherals are mentioned specifically — but I see plenty to be hopeful about, even with this early build as a primary operating system.

Related Research: Google Chrome OS: What to Expect

  1. I’m glad to see the details clearing up about Chrome OS. I was bewildered when some believed that Chrome OS would have no off-line functioning. Especially in a netbook — a netbook with no off-line functioning is slightly more useful than a doorstop.

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  2. why would people assume there would be no media playback, even on current browsers i occasionally run into embedded Windows Media stuff.

    the more i read that article the more it started sounding less like a browser OS & more like real OS (native access to peripherals). some stuff is necessary but lets hope Google doesnt lose their vision, many companies have failed trying to make thin clients (even Apple, original iPhone).

    Kevin, why havent you tried fitting your UMPC with ChromeOS? it seems like a much more natural fit than Android, which just looks awkward on anything bigger than a phone.

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    1. “why would people assume there would be no media playback, even on current browsers i occasionally run into embedded Windows Media stuff.”

      Embedded media != media on removable drives. And that’s what people where thinking Chrome OS would be lacking, i.e.: since it’s “just a browser” you wouldn’t be able to play any media on a removable drive or USB stick.

      I have Chrome OS on a netbook, so there’s little to gain by putting it on a UMPC at this point, relatively speaking.

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  3. I know that you can use VMWare to run Chrome through whatever operating system you boot with. But how do you get it to actually boot Chrome? Where do I get a copy?

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  4. “New consumer-oriented Linux distribution lets you play music, watch videos and photos” – incredible… now that’s what I call revolution.

    Sorry, but I don’t know where the excitement is.

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